Since March 2021, the Catholic Church has been highlighting the role of families in our faith with Pope Francis launching “Amoris Laetitia Family” Year.
Now our churches are once again open to all, we’ve asked families and those in faith communities from our Diocese how they prepare for Holy Week, the traditions they follow and the values they share.
It’s all about family during Lent
Gianna Tabone, aged 11, is the youngest of five children in a family belonging to Mary, Queen of the Family Parish, Blacktown.
Despite Gianna’s youth, she recognises the value in bringing the family together to celebrate the traditions of Lent and Holy Week. She explains how prayer and fasting together slows down and connects the family when the rest of life is so busy. “The family that prays together, stays together,” she reminds us.
Lent is a particularly important time in the household, with the family marking the Stations of the Cross each Friday and each one giving up a food they particularly enjoy. To her credit, her mother still manages to cater to each member and create a great meal. “Mum always finds a way to ‘cook around’ what everyone has given up,” says Gianna.
Palm Sunday Mass in the culturally diverse parish of Holy Family Parish, Emerton, is always full of music. A well as uplifting music, the Masses also feature the blessing of the palms and olive branches at the large white cross at the front of the property, and a procession through to the church.
Lesina Vete, a mother of four from the parish, and her extended family form one of the multicultural choirs which will sing during Holy Week this year. Although it may be exhausting preparing all the music, she says it is wonderful.
After Easter Sunday Mass at the parish, the joy of the Resurrection continues as Lesina and her extended family come together at her parent’s house for a feast on Easter Sunday with plenty of food and more singing.
Catholic teachers acting as role models during Lent
At St John Paul II Catholic College, Schofields, Religious Education and Music teacher Len Lara ensures that his students are aware of the significance of each element of Lent and Easter. “I try to model being more reverent during this season and hope to inspire the students to do the same too,” he says.
Year 12 student Maddison Cauchi explains that the school celebrates a Holy Week liturgy, which focusses on lighting a candle each day and participating in the Stations of the Cross. “Easter is a time to glorify, thank, and worship God for all his sacrifices,” she says.
Sorrow leads to joy
In addition to singing spectacular music during Holy Week, St Patrick’s Cathedral Choir Librarian Samuel Verceluz is honoured to be able to give his gifts and talents back to Christ during Holy Week by aiding and enhancing the worship and contemplation of the faithful.
In particular, the Tenebrae service, this year held on 11 April at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, enhances his experience of Holy Week. The sombre but beautiful service features 15 candles which are gradually extinguished in between psalms, readings, lamentations and motets. The Cathedral ends up completely dark, until the ‘Christ’ candle is brought in.
“It draws me more to the weight and gravity of the mysteries of Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection and ultimately His love for me and His people the Church,” says Samuel. “Tenebrae helps me in prayer and contemplation for the rest of the Holy Week liturgies.”
Young people lead parish in prayer on Good Friday
For 30 years, St Bernadette’s Parish, Castle Hill, has been re-enacting the Passion of Christ on the morning of Good Friday. For Laura Burton, the parish’s Youth Coordinator and Sacramental Coordinator, allowing the young people and young adults to participate in the Stations gives them an opportunity to reflect on what it would have been like to be at Christ’s crucifixion.
“The Stations are such an impactful moment of prayer for the parish,” she says.
“The reflections and prayers between each station help us to consider our own lives and the way we show God our love and faith in Him.”
Laura is particularly moved by Station 4 – When Jesus meets his mother.
“When Mary walks up to Jesus, pushing her way past the soldiers, to be with her son in his time of pain, this really helped put me into the perspective of Mary. How brave and strong, and trusting in God she would have had to have been to stand firm in front of her son as he was in absolute agony, to provide him with a moment of comfort,” she said.
Sisters of Holy Family of Nazareth journeying alongside Christ
At Our Lady of Częstochowa Polish War Memorial Chapel in Marayong in the days leading to Easter, the decorations, atmosphere, times of prayer, and cultural traditions are designed to lead you, with Jesus, from the humiliation of Holy Thursday to the triumph of Easter Sunday.
Holy Saturday brings crowds of people to the chapel for the traditional blessing of the święconka (“blessings”), or Easter basket. The basket contains specific foods with meaningful symbolism, including a lamb cake for Jesus as the Lamb of God, eggs for new life, meat for God’s mercy, and cheese as a sign of moderation. Once the food is blessed in a short prayer service, families take it home to enjoy on Easter Sunday.
“Easter is the reason for our faith”
Maria and Mick Pastoors from the Parish of Richmond have three children and during the Lenten season, they will be welcoming their fourth child.
Maria and Mick try to make Easter as important to the children as Christmas. The family learn about how Easter eggs and the Easter bunny symbolise Jesus’ new life through the Resurrection. They read and watch kid-friendly versions of the Easter story and have a calendar that counts down the 40 days of Lent with family prayers.
Without Easter, there’s no Mass, there’s no faith, no belief in Christ, which makes us Christian,” Maria says. “Easter, to me, is the reason for our faith.”
This Easter, like Easter 2021, is a time to reinvigorate and re-energise our faith, particularly coming after a long period of restrictions. As of the time of writing, our Churches are open to all, and parish communities are preparing a warm welcome to those wishing to participate in our Easter traditions.
View images from the 2022 Holy Week celebrations across the Diocese of Parramatta on the Diocesan Flickr page.
This article was originally published in the 2022 Lent and Easter/Autumn 2022 edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine. You can read the magazine here.